Conversation: Robert Kwak of Muu
Trends & Events
Kids change. Rapidly. They grow fast. Their likes and dislikes are different from one day to the next. How is it that we expect them to be satisfied with one aesthetic look to their room for the entirety of their childhood? And even more, how do we expect kids who use hand-me-down furniture to enjoy the same looks that their older siblings did? With the amazingly versatile and customizable options of kids’ furniture company Muu, you won’t have to.
Muu’s unique in that they offer modern kid products — cribs, storage and more — with interchangeable graphic panels, so that whether you’re letting your little one change their tastes as they get older or using the same furniture between different kiddos, you’ll always be able to give them what they want and let them express their personality. And, of course, Muu cares about sustainability, the health of their products and making American-made items, too. We got to speak with Robert Kwak, the founder of Muu, and he shares what’s important to them and their company, the origins of the name “Muu” and what’s coming up in the future.
Transcript coming at you below! And you better believe you can find Muu products on 2Modern: Muu
Background on why the company got started
When my wife was pregnant with our daughter we started to look for kid’s furniture. And I had been building furniture on a purely recreational basis for years. I used to live in New York and I would go buy pre-cut lumber and carry it home and sand it, cut it and shape it in a one-bedroom apartment and then vacuum all the sawdust from all over the furniture. It was a very primitive way of doing things; very different from what we do now. So I’d always had an interest in design and particular in woodworking. And we were just looking around for furniture when my wife was pregnant and the more we looked at stuff the more stuff just looked the same.
And there were some really lovely, beautifully designed products, but here we were doing something that felt really personal and you fill your nursery in particular with a lot of aspirational things, the color, the art that you put in it. Things are far more put together and carefully edited than in other rooms of the house for most people when they’re about to have children. Who was this individual going to be and what was going to be a reflection of us and what was she going to be as she grew up and it was just odd to me that you were filling the nursery up with things that everyone else had…and it looked like everyone else’s house.
More about why having products that grow with customers is important 1:24
Originally I thought we could design custom furniture. But custom furniture often means a super long lead time, and it also means it’s not related to how people actually live or how they live with children. By that I mean kids are changing all the time. Just from how we started the conversation the idea that at 6 months…in four years they’re totally a different kid. And so how do you have furniture that grows with your children both in the functionality of it and it the style of it? [What we had for our daughter] when she was 6 months old and at 4 ½ are two different things. So how do you create well-made products that are high-quality but also have the ability to grow? So that’s how we started the company and that’s how we developed the idea of the Muu panels, which are interchangeable graphics. The idea that you can have furniture that feels personal and live on and continue to evolve as your children evolve is really core to what we did.
Environmental issues are at the core of these products and the origin of the name Muu 2:35
And then the other part of it that we spent a lot of time thinking about the environmental issues and all the sort of interconnected parts of that. So “Muu” is actually a term derived from a zen term; the stage before you reach enlightenment. You have to realize that all the distinctions in life are artificial. They tell you the story, if you see a mountain, you understand the concept of mu if you understand that there’s no difference between you and the mountain. So there’s this whole interconnectiveness of the products and the people who use the products. So that’s how we really interpreted mu. Environmental and eco-friendly products but also in terms of the whole source of how it goes from being a raw good to going to someone’s home after that.
That was very core to how we thought about the product and the design and the graphics. The idea that all the graphics are interchangeable and they grow with you. The idea that we make all the products here in the United States and we’re very proud to work with high-quality manufacturers to help us build this furniture. And the fact that we’re very connected to those people and to the people who are sanding the furniture and who are boxing it and assembling it and how they are really connected ultimately to the people who are going to have these products in their homes. It really affects how we make it locally and having it made domestically and having a lower carbon footprint and not having to truck our products all around the globe. It’s how we select our materials; it’s our commitment to higher quality. All of these things are really interconnected and we’ve always thought about the brand as really as much about the interconnection and the quality that comes out of that as much as the design.
Why they make their products domestically (hint, it has to do with quality) 4:30
There are a lot of people who can make products very successfully overseas and we’re really happy that they’re able to do it. But for us the choice was very clear that we wanted to be a domestic manufacturer. It means we can get on a plane and then 3 or 4 hours later be on the factory floor. There aren’t cultural differences; there’s not a language or time barrier. So really it means what we’re able to do is keep a very tight control over the quality of the product. And we feel that the quality…when people see the product and they see it and touch it…we were actually just corresponding with a customer about that. They just brought a product home and they really loved the way it looked and the way it felt when they rubbed their hands along the edge of the crib rail and that’s the kind of stuff that people are willing to pay a premium for.
And even in this economy that’s a really rough time economically for lots and lots of people, and we’re feeling it just like everyone else is feeling it, we think people really want things that are going to be well made. That are going to last. And if you have one kid you can change the graphic on the crib and the crib is a completely brand new, fresh crib for a second child. Which is exactly what we did with our children. Our son sleeps in the very first crib that we made and our daughter had cherry blosoms on the front and now he’s got a different look. We redid his nursery slightly differently and he’s got a whole different set of graphic panels. So I think people will understand that the value of buying something that’s built to last, that even though you may pay a little bit more for it, ultimately you’re getting a better quality product.
What’s coming up for them 6:15
You know we definitely have some new things that are coming along that we’re really excited to be working on, and they’re different products that span out what are really core parts of our brand. To really think about design. Obviously we have a strong connection to graphics, with all the graphics on all of our furniture and we will continue to explore some of those things. We’re really excited to be able to share that in the first half of 2012.